Captured in Iraq, Northern Va. man regrets choosing ISIL

This photo posted online by PUK shows the Virginia driver’s license found on 26-year-old Mohamad Jamal Khweis, who turned himself in to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq on March 14, 2016. The American Islamic State group fighter who handed himself over to Kurdish forces in Iraq’s north says he made “a bad decision” joining IS and traveling to Mosul, according to a heavily edited interview he gave to an Iraqi Kurdish television station that aired March 17, 2016. (PUK Media via AP, File)
This image made from video posted on Twitter by a Kurdish fighter shows 26-year-old Mohamad Jamal Khweis, a man that the Kurdish military says is an American member of the Islamic State group shortly after he turned himself in to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, March 14, 2016. (Kurdish fighter via AP, File)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, was prepared to become a suicide bomber and attack America when he left his life in the D.C. suburbs in 2015. He was headed for what he was led to believe was paradise, but after a circuitous sequence of events, he had second thoughts.

However, that has not stopped U.S. authorities’ efforts to imprison him for a long time.

Khweis, of Alexandria, Virginia, was charged in federal court Thursday in the Eastern District of Virginia with “providing and conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization,” as stated in the criminal complaint against him.

Khweis was detained by Kurdish Peshmerga military forces on March 14 in northern Iraq after leaving an ISIL-controlled neighborhood in Tal Afar, Iraq.

He told a Kurdish TV station after surrendering to authorities in Northern Iraq that he “wasn’t thinking straight” when he joined the terror group.

Khweis, a graduate of Edison High School in Fairfax County and later, Northern Virginia Community College, is the first American to be captured on the battlefield fighting for ISIL. His capture could possibly provide significant insight into ISIL’s recruiting and operational tactics.

At the time of his detention, Khweis was carrying “three mobile phones, SIM/memory cards, two bank cards, 451 United States dollars, 285 Turkish Lira and approximately 20,000 Iraqi Dinar,” said an unnamed FBI Special agent mentioned in the charging documents.

Khweis, according to those documents, “admitted to renting a car in Alexandria and flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport to begin his travel to join ISIL in mid-December 2015.”

He stopped in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands before, with the help of ISIL facilitators, making the journey to Syria through Turkey.

He acknowledged, according to the charging documents, that he “stayed in an ISIL safe house in Raqqa, Syria, with other ISIL recruits who were going through an indoctrination process and at one point during the intake process, answered yes when asked by ISIL if he would be a suicide bomber.”

Khweis also admitted to participating in ISIL-directed religious training for nearly one month in preparation for his service to ISIL.

Court documents also say Khweis told authorities that during his stay at the safe house, “representatives from Jaysh Kalifa, ISIL’s ‘offensive group’ visited the new ISIL recruits.”

Khweis said, according to the documents, that “the representatives explained that their group was responsible for accepting volunteers from foreign countries that would be trained and sent back to their home countries to conduct operations and execute attacks on behalf of ISIL.”

He turned and waved at his family members in courtroom before being led away.

It was the first time he had seen them since he left the area last year. His attorney, John Zwerling, said he was notified early Thursday morning that Khweis had arrived in Alexandria and because of a limited amount of time with his client, no determination had been made as to how they would respond to the charges.

Khweis faces 20 years in prison and a stiff fine if convicted. His next court appearance is a detention hearing on June 14.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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